This is an introduction to a series of ongoing posts featuring youth voices and images from Graduation, a multimedia project about Chicago youth violence. I hope to create a collection of youth voices working to create positive change, break negative stereotypes and provide insight into Chicago violence while challenging current social issues.
In 2010 I began collecting newspaper clippings about Chicago youth violence, and the growing number of youth killings haunted me. I knew I wanted to do something but I wasn’t sure what kind of impact I could make. In 2011 reality struck closer to home when my cousin Cam was killed to gun violence. Although Cam wasn’t a youth, seeing the grief and irreversible devastation my family experienced made my urge to make a difference stronger.
I began Graduation in 2012 by photographing schools that victims of violence had attended. Schools should be a place of refuge, educational growth, and innocence, but I focused on creating stoic and isolated school images that juxtaposed those ideas with the tragic reality of what was happening to Chicago youth. Graduation is a collection of images that shows the amount of youth losing their lives to violence (since 2006) while also confronting current issues happening within the Chicago Public School System.
As the project progressed I began to interview youth who have been directly and indirectly affected by violence. I believe in providing a platform for the youth to be heard. I have learned more about youth violence from the stories I’ve heard and youth discussions I’ve been a part of than any impersonal nightly news coverage could provide. The youth interviewed discuss education, youth programs, school closings, their goals and accomplishments, gangs and more, as they break down flaws within society that contribute to the violence. The youth are powerful, and despite the challenges some have been through there is a strong desire to excel and make a difference as you will learn through their passionate, truthful and inspiring stories.
The audio piece below is from my visit with youth at YouMedia. I met with four phenomenal youth who’ve been affected by violence in very different ways but through discussion with one another they work to explore the root of Chicago Violence. Youth interviewed Decarri, 18. Charles, 18. Taria, 17. Deonte, 17. A special thank you to Brother Mike at YouMedia for the opportunity.
Below are several quotes from the audio piece.
“I don’t want to say I’m an activist…maybe I am, I don’t know, but I know I want to make a difference… I can’t say I’m an activist because I feel like most activists single-handedly do things, but I know I can contribute to something and I want to contribute. Cause I know I wont be able to do it by myself, I have to do it amongst my peers. We have to…Are we gonna sit here and watch our troops, our brethren, our people, you know, die everyday, are we gonna watch them fall… or are we going to do something about it.” – Decarri. Age 18.
“To be honest, sometimes I be ready to cry. Like, in 2009, I was looking at the news, I think I was like 13 or 14, and they were just showing all the violence that was happening in Chicago, and all the violence that I saw I swear I cried.” – Deonte, age 17.
“I knew violence was real when my cousin he got shot in front of Simeon Career Academy in they parking lot, and died in his twin brothers hands. When that happened I knew it was just like, man, it was getting real, it just got real real”. – Charles age 18.
On Wednesday night October 9th, Rasheed Trull was killed by gun violence at the age of 16. According to DNAinfo he was a sophomore at Hyde Park High School. Read more at DNAinfo . My deepest condolences to his friends and family.
To learn more about the project visit www.sophianahli.com